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I Was There: The Story of Harry Ettlinger Documentary

“I Was There: The Story of Harry Ettlinger” Documentary

by Jeff Hankinson

“I Was There: The Story of Harry Ettlinger” Documentary

by Jeff Hankinson

October 24, 2014

Harry Ettlinger, one of the last remaining WWII Monuments Men, came for discussion following the Film Society of Summit screening of the 40-minute documentary about his work, ‘Harry Ettlinger: NJ Monument Man.’

Ettlinger was very proud to be a part of the Allied effort to return the art, and culture too, to the proper owners. He was only 19. Now 88 and a resident of Rockaway, NJ, Ettlinger is full of energy and stories. We observed he loves his new-found celebrity and is open to talk to community groups.

Harry Ettlinger of Karlsruhe, Germany was just 18 or so when he graduated from high school in Newark, NJ. He joined the army and was trained and sent over to Europe just before the Battle of the Bulge. He was pulled just before that battle and set aside in case interpreters were needed for the Nuremberg Trials. After three months he was bored and volunteered to join the Monument Men.

Ettlinger’s work in the salt mines began just as the war ended. He was in charge of a number of Germans who were tasked to help him in the mines. Sounds like there were just a couple of people on his detail.

In The Monuments Men film directed by George Cluny, (2014) Harry Ettlinger is depicted as a jeep driver. In the 'real life' story, Ettlinger’s role was as one of the people down in the salt mines organizing and sending stolen art up to the surface so the pieces could be sent back to the museums and institutions where they belonged. I asked him how many pieces of art 'disappeared' in spite of their efforts. Estimates range up to 500,000 pieces of art are out there that were stolen from individual art collections (many from Jewish families) that were not repatriated.

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